Corofin slug it out in extra-time with Kilcoo to secure first three in a row

Corofin 1-12 Kilcoo 0-07

Corofin players celebrate after the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final after beating Kilcoo at Croke Park

Colm Keys

Corofin's claim to the 'greatest' tag is secure. Any lingering doubt as to who club football's premier team has been over the half-century that the All-Ireland senior club championship has been in place was erased in Croke Park when they completed an unprecedented three-in-a-row to add to a previous title in 2015 involving much the same core of players.

Referee Conor Lane called for five extra minutes but it was into an additional 11th-minute - accounted for by cards, substitutions and general disorder - when Paul Devlin stepped up to kick an equalising free and trigger two further periods of extra-time.

Having played much of the second half with 14 players after Dylan Ward was sent off for a second yellow card for his challenge on Dylan Wall that required the Corofin wing-back's removal, they could now revert to the full complement and with Corofin looking increasingly edgy and vulnerable as history beckoned, momentum looked like it was with the Ulster champions.

But in the first 10 minutes of extra-time Corofin opened up and scored as much (1-4) as they had managed (0-7) in the previous 71 or so minutes.

It was a blistering spell for them, the closest they came to reliving the 2015, 2018 and 2019 finals when their play was so illuminating. But it was ever so fleeting because this was always going to be trench warfare. Kilcoo were never going to come to Croke Park and allow the Galway men the same freedom afforded by Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes in the last two finals. Why would they?

And when they found themselves defending for the first time early on they set up with every player taking up a deep position, a clear illustration that it would be a day for the trenches. And so it proved. Corofin are normally very astute at picking their way through these type of puzzles but Kilcoo probably do it better than anyone at this level and the frustration in the champions was evident.

They did create two goal chances with Kilcoo goalkeeper Martin McCourt blocking Michael Lundy and Martin Farragher from close range in the second and 27th minutes but for the most part their game lacked fluency, their execution was poor and kicked possession out over the sideline and endline, something not associated with them on this stage, was commonplace.

It wasn't until the 24th minute Corofin got off the mark through Ronan Steede, the outstanding player of the game and indeed their campaign. By then Kilcoo got two points on the board, both from Paul Delvin frees for fouls on Eugene Branagan.

It was an ugly match, littered with a cynical undercurrent that both sides contributed to.

Overall, referee Lane awarded more than double the number of frees to Kilcoo. Even allowing for a margin of error on his part, it does paint a picture.

At the break, Kilcoo led by 0-3 to 0-2 but with Ward dismissed, Corofin had a little more breathing space and by the 47th-minute they were three points clear, 0-7 to 0-4.

Conor Laverty took up a greater playmaking role in the last quarter, also scoring a point and when Daryl Branagan closed it to within a point on 53 minutes Kilcoo sensed an ambush. But wides from Laverty, Devlin and Eugene Branagan were costly in that stretch.

Devlin's equaliser came courtesy of Corofin substitute Darragh Silke pulling down the impressive Daryl Branagan who, with his brother Aaron, really drove the Kilcoo comeback. Silke was black-carded, following Mike Farragher's red in the 56th-minute for fouling Laverty.

A number of flashpoints erupted in those closing stages and even as the teams went down the tunnel together, one Corofin player deliberately stepped into the path of a number of Kilcoo opponents, which prompted a response and even one supporter to vault the barriers.

When it resumed it was the champions who brought composure and an electrifying burst. Steede, sub Dylan Canney, Liam Silke and Gary Sice (free) sent them four points clear before another sub Conor Cunningham secured the only goal from close range after a Lundy shot had struck an upright, eight minutes into the first period of extra-time.

The resistance had been broken and Corofin could enjoy their victory lap, taking them into the history books. They won it showing a different side to their play at times but all great champions must have a response to every situation.